Sunday, January 22, 2012

Red Tails- movie review and thoughts

We saw Red Tails last night as part of date night.

One of my Air Force buddies panned the movie, saying it was plotless, had wooden acting, and stereotypical characters. He also had a problem with points of military protocol the movie got wrong.

At the risk of torquing off someone who I still want to call "Sir," I disagree.

Did the movie make protocol errors? Yeah... For instance, Hat ON while IN the building and OFF while OUTSIDE, generally speaking, not in regulation. For me salutes done improperly distract me (probably because I did it wrong for a while, and worked hard to keep my head still) so it distracts me for the moment it is done but I quickly move on. Now you could chose to get hung up on these issues. But the idea is to follow the story, not tally up demerits for errors.

Did the dialog come across as wooden- yes at times. But I also noticed the entire film was done as a period piece. This was not Saving Private Ryan. The movie was filmed to look and sound like you were watching something much, much older. The effect might be missed by someone looking for a modern take on things. If you take into consideration that the film is a period piece, then you can see that the actors were likely working to make the characters' interactions come across more like a movie decades old. They wanted it to have a campy feel.

Are the characters stereotypical? Somewhat, but there is something more, if you look.

The flight Captain as an alcoholic - hell, even today flight squadrons often have their own bar. Back in my folk's day, if you didn't drink regularly you stood out like a social pariah. I can only imagine what the drinking was like before their time. So is it a stereotype to have the Captain have a drinking issue? Or is it representative to a time when it was not unusual for people in high stress situations to take to the bottle?

The hotshot with an eye for women? Is that a stereotype? There are some people for whom the rules only apply when it suits them. When it doesn't, they work around the rules or ignore them. I think I have posted before about my dad when he was an active duty Marine. He didn't just break the rules, he flaunted them...I'll try to find the link to that post, for now, just know that he vandalized government property because he could and wanted to get back at a commander who was being a jerk to his people...and in the same week my dad took the base commander's mistress to a party where the commander was present with his wife. There are people like that in every generation of our military. Some are glory hounds, some are bored with trivial assignments, and some are just crazy enough to flirt with the line between lauded leadership/awarded bravery and disorderly conduct/court martial. So is the hotshot character stereotypical, or representative of a type of person one can find in any generation of active duty military?

There were some characters I felt were a little off the shelf, but I don't think they detracted from the story. When you have a two hour movie, you can't exactly spend a lot of time giving characters a lot of depth.

This is a story about a unit given crapy equipment, assigned tasks deemed insignificant, and basically set up to fail. How anyone could say the movie had no plot is beyond me. They have to prove themselves time and time again just to be given an opportunity to be treated as worthy. At the beginning of the movie, a bomber squad is torn apart because the caucasian pilots couldn't keep their egos in check long enough to remember their job was to protect the bombers. We used to chant "fire and steel on target on time" and referenced "bombs on target" so much it was etched into your mind. A major plot point was when the Red Tails stuck to their assigned task to make sure those bombers got to their target and back. They earned the respect of the pilots and crew of the bomber units they escorted. During the arc of the movie, they made a difference and helped changed mindsets. How is that not a plot line. Does it need more than that and a beginning, middle, end?

This movie is one that you can watch and feel good about -triumph over diversity- and one that should get you thinking.

How awkward was it to be fighting bad guys who interred people based on race/skin color, and religion, when our own country interred people based on race (the Americans unlucky enough to look like our enemies), our countrymen treated non-whites like sub-humans, nor were all Americans, or even most Americans, all that open to non-Christian religions? There was real tension in how the Tuskegee Airmen dealt with the racism they faced, which was another subplot of the movie. The flight leader and the hotshot employed very different approaches in dealing with the institutional racism they faced in the AAF. The flight leader's standard mo was to excel on the part of the field where he was allowed to play, and overcome the racism by being so competent that the majority would be unable to ignore his equality to them. His wingman, on the other hand, felt any accommodation of any kind, however temporary, was beneath his dignity, and fought back every time. This was a widespread tension among African-Americans at that time; particularly those few who were taking those first, tentative steps over the color barrier. The movie's portrayal of this was subtle, to be sure, but it was there if you knew the history and paid close attention.

The Tuskegee Airmen were all officers- but do you think life was easy for them even with a degree in hand? When they came home, it was still years before they saw anything close to equal treatment. Those who found love overseas, do you think it would be as simple as to come home with your Caucasian wife? Until Loving vs Virginia in 1967, interracial marriage was illegal, and I know even after that ruling there was plenty of trouble.

This movie is worth seeing if only for the historical context and the conversations you can have afterward. If you walk out of there with nothing more than what movie trailers looked good on your mind, you've missed an opportunity.

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